Finishing 16 points back of the final playoff spot would sound like a bad season to most. But, for a team that has only played four postseason games, it’s progress. Eight more wins last season, and the Blue Jackets would have been in the playoffs again. With the additions made this offseason, they just might finally get over the hump.
Last year, Columbus had issues in all three zones. In their defensive zone, goaltender Steve Mason still couldn’t find the form that won him the Calder Trophy in 2009. Having a 3.03 goals against average and a .901 save percentage will not win many games in Columbus. The team’s inability to keep the puck out of the net cannot be placed solely at his skates, however.
Giving up the fifth-most goals in the league speaks to defensive breakdowns as well.
The defensive corps was average at best, with no definitive shut-down defenseman, nor a proven leader to run the power play. Craig Rivet only playing 14 games last year hurt both units, but not having anyone step up and contribute was a bigger problem.
Columbus’ top line has the ability to give any team fits. Rick Nash is that rare combination of both size and skill that makes him nearly unstoppable. Beyond that first line, however, the Jackets didn’t boast much firepower. Teams with more depth found favorable matchups and exploited them. Depth and skill was obviously an issue, and one that GM Scott Howson looked to remedy immediately.
The biggest shock of the summer benefited the Blue Jackets. In trading away Jakub Voracek, the eighth overall draft pick and a third round pick, Columbus received Jeff Carter from Philadelphia. The 26-year old center will be the perfect compliment to Nash on the top line.
Carter also gives the Blue Jackets added help defensively. Carter is a notorious back-checker and will help ease the stress put on the beleaguered defense.
The addition of both Carter and Vaclav Prospal to the top two lines will not only add scoring punch to Columbus’ line-up, but will tie up the oppositions top D-men, allowing Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette and Sammy Pahlsson more room to roam.
On the blue line, the Jackets added top-flight defenseman James Wisnewski. Expect to see him in the top pairing, going against the best the other team has to offer, as well as quarterbacking the top powerplay unit.
Veteran blueliner Radek Martinek is a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman. Steady and dependable, he is capable of locking up the other team’s top offensive weapons.
With the additions of Carter, Prospal and Wisnewski, expect last season’s third-worst power play to improve dramatically. If they can improve the eighth-worst penalty killing unit, they’ll be playing hockey well into April.